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Profile: Slowing Down to Speed Up

Curbing the impatience of her youth, Nisaba Godrej learnt how to think over things and follow the 10,000-hour rule

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Nisaba Godrej remembers the time, some 16 years ago, when she first joined the family business. A newly-minted undergrad, she nevertheless had strong views on what needed to be done or changed in the 103-year-old group. Only, the young lady ran headlong into a wall because nobody wanted to take suggestions from a 20-year-old greenhorn. Especially not her father, Adi Godrej, the patriarch whose commitment to the family business is legendary.

“I struggled for the first few years to find somebody to listen to my ideas,” she said. “I worked with Godrej Tea at that time, a startup that failed spectacularly, and eventually I went back to Business School to hone my capabilities.”

Impatient for Results
“At Godrej we were still in lifetime employment mode and I remember writing my own resignation letter a few times because no one seemed to take my suggestions seriously. At 28, I was already on the board of the company and it was difficult to be silent when I saw something wrong. I was angry and frustrated but what I know now is that it would have been better to have chilled out a bit and not been so hassled at what I saw happening. A very close friend of mine gave me this very good advice: ‘Life is a marathon, not a sprint and the problem with you is that you get so hassled and impatient.’ I know today that instant results are not going to happen.”

Thankfully for Nisaba, things took a turn for the better when her father, on seeing that the situation in the company was turning from bad to worse, decided to give her a free rein to turn things around. And they did turn around beginning 2007 when she followed her instincts, changing key people, effecting strategy changes and taking a second look at some of the activities the company was involved in.

“When he finally told me I was free to do what I thought was right at the company, I was terrified because the onus was finally on me,” she says.

Around this time she also become involved in Godrej Consumer Products which, between 2007 and 2011, went through a period of intense flux, including the exit of four CEOs in five years. By the time the company recovered in 2011, she was firmly in the saddle, with her father’s blessings. “When the results of what I had initiated started showing, it boosted my confidence and I was ready to do more.”

The Best Times
The 38-year-old Executive Director, Godrej Consumer Products, says: “My 30s are much better than my 20s. In fact this has been the best decade of my life because I learnt a lot and feel that I have achieved a lot of what I set out to do. I’m hoping my 40s will be even better.

Having proved herself repeatedly at various group companies including Godrej Agrovet, Nisaba looks forward to the next phase of her journey. “Portfolio management is one of my top three priorities. I’m also very focused on the people management. Our engagement score has gone up massively and we consistently win the ‘Great Places to Work’ awards but I am convinced we need another level jump in terms of talent and need to use more analytics in decision making.”

With much of her initial work of transformation at the group now complete and yielding results, Nisaba says she is finally able to engage with change management instead of daily ops, focussing on larger issues such as innovation and strategy that will take Godrej into the next 50 years.

While the stints at Wharton and Harvard Business School gave her business skills, much of her learning has been from her father. She recalls the long walks that she took with him from the family home in Walkeshwar along the sea to Oberoi Hotel, a two-hour ritual that allowed them to talk and bond over shared interests, she bouncing ideas off him and absorbing everything he had to impart. “For those two hours nothing distracted him from me,” she said.

Necessary Rituals
What gladdens her heart and keeps Nisaba motivated today is the 40-minute lunch ritual with her father and brother at the group’s Vikhroli headquarters, a treasured green space the family cherishes as their legacy for future generations. “Lunch is when we discuss what is working and what does not and what needs to be done for this entity that all of us are so passionate about.”

The years have changed Nisaba in many ways: “Now when I want to write that email to someone about something that bothers me, I write it, put it in my draft folder and send it only after I have had time to think over it. I have learnt to be smart about getting things done.”

For other women who have dreams to follow, Nisaba has this to say: “The first step is to roll up your sleeves and work hard. Be tenacious because you are going to get knocked down. If you get off that horse, then it’s done. Game over. The reason there are not so many entrepreneurs who hit big time is because the journey is so very hard,” she says.

“Also, if you’re going through a tough time and hating what you do, find something you are passionate about. And accept that there will be good times and bad and you have to see them through. I believe in the 10,000-hour rule. Don’t expect results on Day One.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Sudha Menon

The author is a columnist and the author of three non-fiction books: Leading Ladies, Legacy and Gifted. She is also the founder of a writing workshop series, Get Writing

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